The people who brought us Brexit didn’t know what the effect of the breach would be. No one did; or does.
Leading British Leave campaigners, including Boris Johnson, appeared to consider that Britain could retain access to its single market but implement some limits on free movement.
In fact, if Britain is to be in the internal market for goods then it will have to accept, on all existing precedents, free movement of people, the application of EU rules that it will have no part in framing and the continuing surrender of substantial financial contributions to the EU budget.
Even then it will not have full access to the internal market in services such as banking, hammering the British economy.
Unfortunately for the UK, a lethal blend of ignorance, racism and manipulation of an undereducated and vulnerable working class, genuinely threatened by globalism and immigration (which on balance serves the country well) by opportunists in the Tory Party and UKIP, threatens the fundaments of the country’s economy and polity.
It is primarily because it is a class-riven society with low educational standards that the UK, or more particularly England and Wales, has chosen to exit. Anyone with an understanding of history or economics would not want the EU’s collapse or Britain’s exit. It turns out that average levels of education of the people in a region correlate strongly with their Brexit orientations. People in areas where many residents have college degrees were far more likely to vote Remain, particularly in central London, where more than two thirds of the city population has a bachelor’s degree. Ironically but encouragingly, hosting a sizeable immigrant population seemed to sway communities against Leave, and denser cities tended against Leave, overall.
Other factors mattered less. The median age of a community, despite the much emphasised youths-versus-retirees clash that many said would define the referendum, ended up correlating only slightly with how the vote actually went. Nevertheless it appears that of 18-24-year-olds, the age category that’s going to have to live with the consequences of this vote for all of their working lives, 75 percent voted to stay. Among over 65s the figure was only 39%. Britain is fissured to the detriment of the most dynamic, outward looking and young.
Behind the now spreading turmoil, Europe faces extraordinary crises: from immigration to terrorism, from declining competitiveness to inequality to climate change and species loss.
In the Netherlands, once a bastion of tolerance, at the moment Geert Wilders is topping the polls. He is “channelling” Donald Trump, with slogans like “Make the Netherlands great again!” He is preparing for a general election early next year – promising that, if he becomes prime minister, his first act will be to call an in/ out referendum on EU membership. Prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals, with 47 per cent in favour of staying and 45 per cent in favour of going it alone. Marine Le Pen, ascendant in Presidential polls, is promising a referendum in France. In Italy the populist Five Star Movement has emerged as Italy’s leading political party, overtaking Matteo Renzi’s ruling Democratic party and promising a referendum. There is a dangerous democracy-light nationalist government in Hungary and a court-ordered Presidential re-election in Austria that may facilitate the ultra-rightist Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party.
In the face of all this, the EU, led by secondraters cynically put up precisely because they are second-raters, has no plans beyond regurgitated schemes to boost EU economic growth through investment, to agree greater co-operation to boost security, and to work on creating job opportunities for young people. Above all no simply-stated fresh Vision for a volatile continent.
The EU, if no other institution, needs charismatic and accountable leaders with big and popular egalitarian ideas.
Let’s hear more about an agenda of people not capital or bureaucracy, of equality not commerce. The EU needs to become an agent of equality and the environment, driven in every case by efficiency, accountability and the common good. This institution, once so sharp and so idealistic, needs urgently to register a new Vision and a Passion for progress.
In 1992 the Danes voted to reject the Maastricht treaty. The Irish voted to reject both the Nice treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon treaty in 2008. The Netherlands rejected the Maastricht treaty in June 2005 by a stinging 61.6 per cent. There were revotes in every case.
The UK has two years to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It is likely there will be a general election within that period. Indeed since Brexit has precipitated a 10% decimation in the value of Sterling, extraordinary stockmarket volatility and will lead to job losses – in financial services but more importantly in the English heartland that voted Leave, it seems likely that there will be time for a realignment of British politics to the centre, occasioning a Remain majority that will have a mandate to call a new referendum.
It is to be hoped that such a referendum would concentrate the minds of Britons on the benefits of the EU, as well as of the EU on the need for a revamped Vision and Message. Before it really is too late.